MS and Marriage

It’s Sunday.  (And time for an opinionated ramble …)

I heard an older gentleman married a long time to his wife say, “She doesn’t have MS. We have MS.”

On the other hand, I’ve also heard and read stories of men who told their wives, “I can’t handle this MS stuff. I’m out of here,” and then they’re gone.

Without question, being told your spouse has Multiple Sclerosis is overwhelming. And as time passes, daily reminders accumulate. Most of these daily reminders can become hassles. New symptoms appear. New medicines fill your medicine cabinets (and they’re expensive).

Your part of the household workload increases because of your spouse’s fatigue. Expenses arise you didn’t imagine you would consider until old age when you might need to purchase walking canes or a walker or wheelchair.

Your life slows down because your spouse can no longer keep up with your normally quick pace. You’re feeling older than you think you should because everyone passes you and your wife.

Now that you walk slowly enough to smell the roses, you can’t because you haven’t had time to tend to them and they have died of neglect!

The emotional content of your life also changes. You deal with the daily frustrations of a partner who can no longer do all the things she or he wishes to do. Loss casts a misty shadow when you see other couples running around together … literally running.

With each new symptom or loss, it’s easy to feel like your world is becoming more circumscribed by a wall that slowly constricts closer around the two of you. In the best situation, family and friends understand the changes that are occurring in your world and continue to include you in theirs. In the worst case, MS can lead to a sense of isolation for a couple leaving them alone with each other.

The Big Question

If you are married to a partner with Multiple Sclerosis (or any other chronic disease) you understand intuitively many of the ways your spouse’s disease affects you. As I think about it this morning, one of the most character-defining moments your partner’s disease offers you is the question, “what am I going to do about this disease?”

I think the question offers only three possible answers.

1. “I can’t handle this. Goodbye.”
2. “We’re married, but this is your disease.”
3. “We have MS.”

I won’t discuss the first two responses because they aren’t about commitment. If you’re committed to your spouse, in my opinion, the only healthy position you can take is, “we have MS.” It’s the best response.

“We Have MS”

I know men who are so committed to “their” team that they’re actually sad when their team loses.  They stress about upcoming games against stronger teams and they wear clothing with their team’s logo.  They paint their chests.  They say things like “we lost” and “we won!” (And this from guys who have never played ball anywhere but the back yard.) In other words, they identify strongly with their team and are committed to it through thick and thin.

This is simplistic, men, but if you can’t cheer for your partner who has MS with the same fervor you have for your favorite team, you’re missing the point and the joys of marriage.

Strong, healthy marriages are formed in the crucible of crises. Be careful you do not read that with a negative slant.

A marriage lived in the “crucible of crises” is NOT an endurance contests! “Strong, healthy” marriages do not happen because of sheer tenacity. They are filled with their own rewards!

Strong, healthy marriages are nourishing for both partners. Even in the shadow of frequent crises; strong, healthy marriage are filled with joy and comfort.

You and your partner will never have a shot at a strong, healthy marriage if your response to your partner’s MS (or other disease) is “goodbye” or “this is your disease.”

Going back to the sports analogy, in terms of commitment, supporting your favorite team is child’s play. Being positively married to a spouse with MS is playing in the big leagues.

Caregiver Tip: For “strong and healthy”, your answer has to be, “we have MS. How do we deal with it together.”

One Comment

  1. Christopher said:

    I get what you are saying, but why do I feel like it is not just the MS? I don’t think the MS is making her this way, I feel that it may have helped to increase the emotions, but the way that she has been acting lately is just wrong and not appropriate at all. Very rude and selfish, is that still not about commitment? I’m sure that is how it will be spun no matter what I do or say. I love my wife, but no one should be disrespected for any reason, let alone without rational input. Am’ I wrong???

    October 27, 2014

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